The Best River Cruises of 2024—From the Douro to the Danube, the Mekong to the Magdalena

Where to sail next in Europe, Asia, and beyond.

View of the Porto waterfront with the Douro River and port in the foreground and old, colorful buildings lining the hillside in the background

River cruises along Portugal’s scenic Douro River are heating up in 2024 with new ships and sailings.

Photo by Shutterstock

Following a pandemic pause, river cruise ships have returned to inland waterways around the world, affording travelers a slow and immersive way to explore riverside towns and sights without the hassle of checking into and out of hotels and figuring out local transportation.

New itineraries and themed cruises in 2024 make it possible to go farther afield and explore areas of interest more deeply (such as Black history, cuisine, biking, and hiking). Alternatively, classic tried-and-true routes will bring guests to UNESCO World Heritage sites and other must-see as well as under-the-radar attractions, with most (if not all) of your accommodations, meals, excursions, and Wi-Fi included in your cruise fare.

If you are thinking of taking a river cruise, here are some new and favorite options to consider.

Hit the biking trails of Germany's Black Forest region on an active Avalon Waterways Rhine cruise.

Hit the biking trails of Germany’s Black Forest region on an active Avalon Waterways Rhine cruise.

Israel Ferrera/Unsplash

“Active & Discovery on the Rhine” with Avalon Waterways

  • Best for: Active exploration of Europe’s castles and vineyards
  • Number of days: 8
  • Starting cost: $3,599 per person
  • Location: Rhine River

When it comes to riverside scenery, it’s hard to beat the Rhine, with its 40-mile UNESCO World Heritage-protected Upper Middle Rhine Valley. Here, passengers will want to be out on deck admiring the castles dotting the shoreline. All major river cruise lines offer sailings along the Rhine between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland. But for those who want to get their heart rate up a little to the backdrop of stunning Rhine River views, Avalon Waterways’ 166-passenger Avalon Expression cruises a seven-night “Active & Discovery” itinerary that combines classic sightseeing with hiking, biking, kayaking, and other adrenaline-boosting experiences. Passengers can e-bike through the Black Forest, trek along the river in Strasbourg, France, and kayak the canals of Amsterdam, among other activities. The cruises are available on select dates, from April to September.

“Boléro South of France” with Riverside Luxury Cruises

  • Best for: Laissez-faire travelers with a taste for old-world architecture
  • Number of days: 7
  • Starting cost: $3,672 per person
  • Location: Rhône and Saône rivers in the south of France

There’s something incredibly romantic about sailing through the south of France. The days blend into each other, walks within walled cities seem endless, and the hot summer nights feel full of possibilities. And what better way to sail through Provence than in luxurious style? Enter Riverside Ravel, the newest ship from Riverside Luxury Cruises, a river cruise line that launched earlier this year resurrecting the formal Crystal fleet of opulent ships.

The all-suite, 110-passengerRavel relaunched earlier this year and will offer a number of sailings on the Rhône and Saône rivers in 2024. In addition to the 7-night “Boléro South of France” cruise between Avignon and Lyon, offering a deeper dive into the scenic region, Riverside also offers some short-and-sweet three- and four-night itineraries that provide guests with the highlights of Provence. Departures for Riverside’s south of France cruises will take place in June, July, September, and October 2024.

Exterior of a chateaux in Saint-Emilion

Go châteaux hopping in France’s Bordeaux region.

Photo by Jonathan Farber/Unsplash

“Bordeaux Affair” with Scenic Cruises

  • Best for: Oenophiles
  • Number of days: 7
  • Starting cost: $5,057 per person
  • Location: Dordogne and Garonne rivers and the Gironde Estuary in France

A must-do for wine lovers is an in-depth exploration of Bordeaux, along the Dordogne and Garonne rivers and the Gironde Estuary in France. Australian luxury line Scenic Cruises does a seven-night “Bordeaux Affair” itinerary that’s as appealing as it sounds. Sailings run from late April into October, and while they don’t take passengers far geographically, that’s not the point. Rather the idea is to sip and savor France’s wine country, stopping along the way at gorgeous châteaux and vineyards to enjoy the local product in iconic destinations such as Margaux, Saint-Emilion, Medoc, Pomerol, and Sauternes. Scenic’s tours include several Grand Cru Class estates—Château Franc Mayne and Château Myrat among them. If you cruise in September or October, you’ll also be able to observe the annual grape harvest. The cruises take place on Scenic’s 167-passenger Scenic Diamond.

Small boats of river market on the Mekong

A cruise along the Mekong is a feast for the senses.

Photo by Shutterstock

“Deeper and Further on the Mekong River” with Pandaw

  • Best for: Exploring the vibrant river life of Cambodia and Vietnam
  • Number of days: 10
  • Starting cost: $4,800 per person
  • Location: Mekong River in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos

If you’re looking to venture beyond the rivers of Europe, a Mekong river cruise will not disappoint (and may even overshadow). You will explore the fascinating and complex cultures and history of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. Pandaw, a luxury river cruise specialist in Asia, is launching four new itineraries on the Mekong in 2024 that will cater to the different needs of its travelers.

A new 10-night “Deeper and Further on the Mekong River” cruise will take guests on a more immersive journey into the heart of Vietnam and Cambodia, while guests who are tight on time can choose from a new three- or four-night Saigon and Phnom Penh short cruise itinerary (priced from $1,288 per person) for a tour of the highlights along the waterway. A new 21-night “Halong Bay, Red River & Laos Mekong” itinerary (from $10,000) will also be available for those who want to spend more time exploring life on the Mekong River in Laos by combining sailings on multiple rivers in the region.

Lastly, the new 11-night “Classic Vietnam & Cambodia” journey combines a land trip and river cruise for travelers who want the best of both worlds while exploring Southeast Asia, where they’ll make the trek to Siem Reap to see the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat. Fares for this itinerary begin at $4,388 per person.

“Highlights of the Douro Valley and Salamanca River” with Riviera River Cruises

  • Best for: Going beyond traditional western and central Europe
  • Number of days: 8
  • Starting cost: $2,849 per person
  • Location: Douro and Salamanca rivers in Portugal and Spain

Portugal’s ‘River of Gold’ is heating up with possibilities in 2024 as a number of river cruise lines introduce new ships and itineraries on the scenic Douro River next year, offering more chances to explore the wine region of the Iberian Peninsula amid the lush hillsides of the Douro River Valley. Riviera River Cruises will launch its newest ship, the Porto Mirante, in July 2024, sailing 10 departures of its new eight-day “Highlights of the Douro Valley and Salamanca River” itinerary between July and October. The itinerary sails round-trip from Porto and will include guided visits of the city’s Old Town, a visit to the Quinta da Pacheca winery, as well as tours of Salamanca, Spain, which will feature a traditional flamenco show over lunch.

Scarlet macaw in flight

Bird-watchers will delight in the chance at spotting scarlet macaws in the Amazon.

Photo by Shutterstock

Peruvian Amazon with Aqua Expeditions

  • Best for: Wildlife seekers
  • Number of days: 3
  • Starting cost: $2,760 per person
  • Location: Peruvian Amazon

An option that easily can be combined with a visit to Machu Picchu, a cruise on the Peruvian Amazon on the recently launched luxury vessel Aqua Nera (custom-built for the destination) will fuel travelers’ thirst for South American adventure. Aqua Expeditions’ 40-passenger ship has as many crew members as guests, ensuring a high level of service as passengers join local naturalists to explore the black lagoons of the Amazon’s wildlife-rich Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Guests stay in sleek suites, enjoying cuisine envisioned by Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, one of Peru’s most celebrated chefs, and facilities that include a cinema, billiards room, and top-deck gym. Kayaking, fishing, and guided nature tours are among the included activities. Four- and seven-night sailings are available as well.

top deck of the Uniworld Mekong Jewel river cruise vessel with orange loungers, a pool and city background

You’ll make memories to last a lifetime sailing along the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia with Uniworld.

Courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

“Rivers of the World” with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

  • Best for: An epic river journey that travels across Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia
  • Number of days: 55
  • Starting cost: $49,400 per person
  • Location: Peruvian Amazon, Rhine, Danube, and Mekong rivers

A blockbuster river cruise sailing is being offered by luxury river cruise line Uniworld Boutique River Cruises—a 55-night “Rivers of the World” cruise that explores three continents. The 10-country itinerary begins in Peru and ends in Cambodia, and the itinerary includes flights between countries and luxury hotel stays. Along the route, guests will explore the Amazon and Brazil, cruise through central Europe on the Rhine, the south of France on the Rhône, and end with a cruise on the Mekong River traveling through Southeast Asia. The sailing begins on October 3, 2024.

Visiting Vienna is a highlight of any Danube river cruise.

Visiting Vienna is a highlight of any Danube river cruise.

Sandro Gonzalez/Unsplash

“Romantic Danube” with Viking River Cruises

  • Best for: A first-timer’s river cruise
  • Number of days: 8
  • Starting cost: $2,199 per person
  • Location: Upper Danube

If you’ve never been on a river cruise before, the Upper Danube is the perfect beginner’s destination for the wealth of beautiful cities and sights along the way. Cruises sail between Germany and Hungary and include stops in Budapest, Vienna, and Austria’s famous Wachau Valley wine region. Every major river line offers a weeklong classic itinerary along this route. A reliable choice in terms of value and consistency is sailing on one of Viking River Cruises’ contemporary 190-passenger “longships”—the company has a fleet of nearly identical river ships in Europe. The line’s “Romantic Danube” itinerary offers quality time in Budapest, Vienna, and the Bavarian city of Regensburg in Germany, where passengers can opt either for included escorted tours or explore on their own. Excursion options include an e-bike ride through vineyards and a visit to Salzburg, Austria, where several scenes of the iconic movie musical The Sound of Music were filmed. Cruises take place from March through December.

A small boat sails along the water in the Danube Delta in Romania with a tower in the background

Explore the lesser-known Danube Delta region in Romania on this comprehensive river cruise.

Photo by Shutterstock

“Seven River Journeys” with AmaWaterways

  • Best for: A thorough exploration of Europe
  • Number of days: 49
  • Starting cost: $25,650 per person
  • Location: Danube, Rhine, Main, and Moselle rivers, as well as the inland waterways of the Netherlands and Belgium

River cruises that sail for more than a month, offering an intense exploration of the inland waterways of Europe continue to be a hit with slow-travel seekers. One of them is AmaWaterways’ recently introduced 49-night “Seven River Journeys,” which kicks off with two new departures in the spring and summer of 2024 aboard a single ship, the 78-cabin AmaMora. The cruise will sail from the North Sea to the Black Sea, passing through 15 countries across Europe on the Danube, Rhine, Main, and Moselle rivers, as well as the inland waterways of the Netherlands and Belgium. The 49-night spring version runs from April 22 to June 10, 2024, and the summer edition runs from June 10 to July 29.

A stateroom on AmaWaterways' AmaKristrina river cruise ship with a bed, two armchairs and a balcony

Explore southern France in comfort onboard AmaWaterways’ AmaKristrina river cruise ship.

Miroslav Petrasko/AmaWaterways

“Soulful Epicurean Experience on the River” with AmaWaterways

  • Best for: A focus on Black history
  • Number of days: 10
  • Starting cost: $4,500 per person
  • Location: Provence in the south of France; and Egypt’s Nile River

River cruise line AmaWaterways is bringing back its Soulful Epicurean river cruises in 2024 with two additional departures available for the 10-night “Soulful Epicurean Experience on the River” sailing on the Rhône River. The cruise will take place on the 156-passenger AmaKristina and will combine the line’s already wonderful “Colors of Provence” itinerary between Arles and Lyon in France with a thoughtfully curated itinerary that focuses on Black heritage and culture. The cruise is capped off with an additional three-night pre- or post-cruise visit to Paris that also focuses on the city’s local Black history, with a full-day excursion exploring the legacy of singer Josephine Baker, while another will focus on Black history in Paris.

The river cruise line is also expanding its Soulful Epicurean offerings across the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt’s famed Nile River, where guests will dive deep into the history and stories of Egypt’s African diaspora while sailing on the 11-night “Secrets of Egypt & the Nile” itinerary onboard the AmaDahlia. Guests can expect to explore colorful Nubian villages and meet the locals who are continuing the traditions of their ancient Egyptian ancestors. There will also be a three-night pre- and post-cruise land extension in Cairo. The Soulful Epicurean sailings on the Rhône embark June 13 and June 17, 2024, with fares starting from $4,500 per person, and sailings on the Nile River set sail on May 17, 2024, with fares beginning at $5,049 per person.

a storefront with a display full of shelves of bottled beers in Ghent, Belgium.

Taste local brews in Ghent, Belgium, on Avalon’s beer-themed river cruise.

Katrina Eglite/Unsplash

“Tulip Time for Beer Enthusiasts” with Avalon Waterways

  • Best for: Beer lovers
  • Number of days: 8
  • Starting cost: $3,348 per person
  • Location: Inland waterways and canals of Holland and Belgium

Tulip Time for Beer Enthusiasts” is a themed cruise that Avalon Waterways designed specifically for beer lovers. From Amsterdam, passengers will cruise through Holland and Belgium, where springtime flowers will be on full display (including tulips at Holland’s famous Keukenhof Gardens); along the way there will ample opportunities for sipping brews. A harbor cruise in Rotterdam comes with a beer lecture, and guests can opt for guided visits to breweries in Antwerp and Ghent in Belgium. A beer expert will be on board hosting talks, tastings, and food pairings. The cruise embarks on April 6, 2024. Avalon Waterways also has beer itineraries on the Rhine and Danube.

A rendering of a Panorama Suite on Avalon's forthcoming Alegria vessel

A rendering of a Panorama Suite on Avalon’s forthcoming Alegria vessel, which is launching on the Douro River in 2024.

Courtesy of Avalon Waterways

“Vida Portugal: Vineyards & Villages Along the Douro” with Avalon Waterways

  • Best for: Active oenophiles
  • Number of days: 8
  • Starting cost: $3,424 per person
  • Location: Douro River in Portugal

Avalon Waterways will be launching its first ship on the Douro next year, the Avalon Alegria. Boasting 102 cabins, the Alegria will sail the new eight-day “Vida Portugal: Vineyards & Villages Along the Douro” beginning in April, and will feature the river cruise line’s signature Classic, Discovery, and Active excursion choices in ports of call. Guests can also choose the itinerary that includes a three-night extension in Lisbon for $4,373 per person.

Colorful homes with vibrant floral beds line a street in Cartagena, Colombia.

Explore colorful Cartagena, Colombia, on a Magdalena river cruise.

Ricardo Gomez/Unsplash

“Wonders of Colombia” and “Magic of Colombia” with AmaWaterways

  • Best for: Culture and nature lovers
  • Number of days: 7
  • Starting cost: $3,600 per person
  • Location: Magdalena River in Colombia

The highly anticipated debut of a new river to explore in South America will arrive in late 2024 when AmaWaterways launches its first ship on Colombia’s Magdalena River. The new 60-passenger AmaMagdalena will sail the two seven-night itineraries, “Wonders of Colombia” and “Magic of Colombia” beginning in November 2024. Both itineraries will sail between Cartagena and Barranquilla and will help guests discover the rich biodiversity of the Magdalena River, as well as the vibrant cultures and communities found along the way in ports of call like Mompox and Magangue. Travelers can also look forward to visiting Palenque, the first “free town” for former African slaves in the Americas, and discover its ties to the African diaspora. Several options to add on a variety of pre- and post-cruise extensions are also available, including a three-night Panama City post-cruise stay for the “Wonders of Colombia” itinerary, and a three-night pre-cruise stay in Medellín for the “Magic of Colombia” voyage.

This story was originally published in 2022, and was most recently updated on September 13, 2023, to include current information.

Fran Golden is an award-winning travel writer who has sailed on some 170 ships to destinations around the world.
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